You sit quietly in a darkened room, surrounded by a group of friends. The television screen flickers and everyone in the room bursts out laughing at a particularly inspired gag. After the chuckles have subsided, you reach out absent-mindedly and grab a handful of popcorn. Sounds like fun? Try it yourself; it's the simple entertainment of a film night.
A film night, or movie night if you prefer, is pretty self-explanatory. It is a night when friends gather together with the intention of watching a film or a number of films, though you can also replace films with television programmes.
Why a Film Night?
Why choose to stage your own film night instead of actually going to the cinema? While you won't get the full cinematic experience in terms of sound and screen size, a film night is a cheap, comfortable and easy way to spend time with friends, and as such is suitable entertainment if you're broke. It also has the advantage that you can stop the film any time you choose, meaning it's no longer necessary to miss crucial scenes while you nip to the loo during the latest three-hour blockbuster. If you don't like the film, you can change it. There's no need to sit behind someone who appears to be the tallest person in the known universe and blocks half the screen, or in front of the group of young children who kick the back of your chair and burst into tears when they're bored.
Going to a cinema also means you have to be silent while the film is showing1, but during a film night you can chat to your friends. Talking can add to the experience — ridiculing a bad film, for example, can make it worth watching. However, in many cases, someone talking while you're watching a really great film is exceedingly irritating.
There are also a much greater range of films available to watch on DVD than there are at the cinema. If nothing at the local multiplex catches your eye, a film night may be a better way to spend your leisure hours. Be aware, though, that once you have rented or bought a film and perhaps bought food and drinks too, the evening may actually cost more than attending the cinema. It is cheaper if you use a DVD either you or one of your guests already owns, though this will limit your choices in comparison to renting DVDs. Therefore it helps if you can persuade your guests to split the costs with you.
Now that you have established that you are going to hold a film night, how do you go about organising it? The first step is to decide when and where to hold it.
When and Where
Think about how much time you are likely to need: watching one film will probably require no more than about three hours at most, though be careful if you choose a longer film such as Gandhi, which takes a whopping four hours. Likewise, if you choose a series of films such as Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will need longer. Each of the Rings films tops three hours and the extended editions are longer still. You may have to set aside a whole day, or plan for a very late night, to watch films like these.
You also need to decide where to watch your films. The best bet is to decide who has the best equipment. If it's you that has the state-of-the-art television2, DVD player3 and surround sound, this is either bad luck or the perfect opportunity to show it off, depending on your viewpoint.
It is important to ensure that there are enough chairs for all your guests. These must be comfortable enough to be used for several hours at a time and you must be able to arrange them so that everyone has a good view of the television. A sofa and armchairs are the ideal solution; beanbags are not because though they may be comfortable for a while, they offer little support to the back.
Lower the lights to create a nice film-watching ambience.
Choice of Film
This is by far the most difficult part of organising a successful film night. The first step is to consider the film tastes of your guests. Differing film tastes lead to conflict over film choice. For instance, if we are to be stereotypical for a moment, the male guests may want to watch Die Hard while the female guests insist on Lost In Translation. Some guests may want to see Dude, Where's My Car?, while others prefer Citizen Kane. You may end up as arbitrator in this situation. However tempting it is to insist that to stop arguments, everyone watches whatever you want to see, this is not the polite way to act. Leave the decision up to your guests. If there is real deadlock, toss a coin or watch both.
Be sure that nobody is truly unhappy with the decision. While horror films are often used for late-night film sessions, if one of the group will be terrified out of their wits or even refuses to watch, it's not a good choice.
Food and Drink
It is customary for the host to provide some food and drink for your guests. If it's in the evening, your guests will probably already have eaten, though if you are not going to provide any substantial food, it is best to be clear about this to avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings. It is nice, though, to provide some 'nibbles', such as popcorn. Firstly, it is traditional to eat popcorn during films; secondly, a bag can be easily divided among bowls so it is easy to share with everyone. In the same vein, crisps go down well, while messy finger food is not a clever idea. It will probably be reasonably dark during the films, and sticky fingermarks on your sofa are not a good look.
Drinks are a little more tricky. Soft drinks are the safe option, but providing you and your guests are all over the legal age limit for alcoholic beverages, you may prefer to offer some alcohol. This could be fine and dandy, or it could mean the film gets ignored and your innocent get-together turns into a raucous party. Again, this may be what you intended all along, in which case you can congratulate yourself on a job well done.
If you really want to watch the film, though, some more thought may be in order. Yes, a glass of wine may go perfectly with Sleepless in Seattle, but it may not work so well with Alien — not to mention the fact that any scary bits are likely to be accompanied by your guests jumping and spilling the precious wine all over your carpet. Also, be sure if you are providing drinks that your friends aren't going to take this as your acceptance of their getting hideously drunk.
As mentioned above, depending on how many friends are coming, buying all of this food and drink could be expensive. It may be worth asking your guests to each bring something with them, thus spreading the cost.
Enlivening the Evening
Perhaps the film you've decided on is actually rather boring, or perhaps it's great and you just want to make it better. One way to do this is by making up games. A popular one originated as a drinking game but can be altered to use non-alchoholic drinks or even food. This game picks up on things that often happen during the film, phrases that are often said and so on. The idea is to make a list of these (some familiarity with the film is therefore important) and pass it to each of the players. When something on the list occurs, every player takes a drink, eats something, or whatever you have decided on. If something rarer happens, increase the number of drinks. For example, if you were watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you could take one drink every time the Guide is consulted, every time Zaphod calls Arthur 'Earthman', and so on. You could take two drinks every time you spot a reference to Douglas Adams or the original Hitchiker's radio series and books. A quick internet search may turn up a suitable game or you can make one up yourself. Of course, it is important to realise that if you play this game using alcoholic drinks, people may get very drunk.
Depending on your tastes, another way to enliven the evening is by dressing up as characters from the films, particularly if they are science-fiction or fantasy films. This is not recommended unless you are sure that your friends will not laugh you out of the building.
The End of the Fun
Once everyone's either fallen asleep or gone home, and you've either cleaned up (if you're conscientious) or decided to leave it till the morning, you can pat yourself on the back and be satisfied with a successful film night!